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    Cold Water Fatality Myths

    Cold Water Fatality Myths

    Photo By Pamela Doty | By R.J. Garren read more read more



    Story by Pamela Doty 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Water Safety

    Numerous times after a drowning incident in cold water, I’ve heard reporters mistakenly state on the news that a person drowned because their clothes or boots pulled them down underwater, implying they had no chance to even attempt to get out of the water. This type of thinking can actually lead to people panicking and drowning. Learning more about the common myths that lead to cold-water drownings could prevent you from becoming a fatal drowning statistic.

    MYTH #1: Falling into cold water kills you because your wet clothes pull you down.
    Fact: Wet clothes only weigh you down when you’re getting out of the water. This concept that clothes aren’t heavy in the water is often difficult for people to understand unless they have experienced it themselves. Advanced lifesaving training and some military training involves learning to stay afloat and swim for long periods of time fully clothed, including shoes. My experience in doing that proved to me that my clothing and shoes actually helped me to float, as long as I didn’t use any swim strokes above the water surface. Of course, wearing a life jacket increases your chances of surviving even more.

    MYTH #2: People drown because they don’t know how to swim.
    Fact: Most people think that swimmers never drown, but research proves that most people who drown were perceived to know how to swim. Falling into cold water causes an involuntary gasp reflex and you could possibly inhale water and drown. Also, it’s a struggle to gain control of your breathing. Hyperventilating in this first stage of cold-water immersion can cause you to blackout and drown. To survive after falling into cold water, you must remain calm, avoid panicking, and stop hyperventilating within the first minute. There is a technique that may help prevent hyperventilation and it involves breathing out through pursed lips. The first minute after you fall into cold water can be challenging, even for strong swimmers. That’s one reason why it’s so critical to wear a life jacket; it can help you survive.

    MYTH #3: Hypothermia is what kills most people who fall into cold water.
    Fact: There are four stages of cold water immersion and most people drown from the first two. The first stage was described in myth #2 and the second stage of cold-water immersion is cold incapacitation or swim failure. This happens after approximately 10-minutes, depending on how cold the water is, and it involves losing your ability to use your extremities (e.g. hands, arms, legs). Hypothermia happens in the third stage of cold-water immersion, after approximately one hour or more in the water. The specific amount of time for hypothermia to happen depends on water temperature, clothing, body type, and your behavior in the water. Hypothermia can happen anywhere that the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, but in cold water it can happen 25 times faster than cold air. Swimming or treading water can cause you to lose body heat even faster so it’s critical to stay calm. Once hypothermia occurs, you can lose consciousness and death can happen with or without drowning. It is estimated that in 40 to 50 degree water, it can take 30 to 60 minutes before someone loses consciousness. Wearing a life jacket can help someone survive those same temperatures between 1 to 3 hours and that increases your chances of being rescued.

    MYTH #4: After a fall into cold water, if you survive hypothermia you’re going to live.
    Fact: Unfortunately, there is a fourth stage of cold-water immersion called post-immersion collapse that can still kill you. To those of us not trained in treating these medical emergencies, it’s somewhat surprising that this can happen after someone has been rescued. The fact is these people are in great danger of experiencing collapsed arterial blood pressure during this stage, which can lead to cardiac arrest. Also, inhaling water can damage your lungs and cause heart problems to develop as cold blood from your arms and legs is released into the core of your body.

    MYTH #5 It takes four inches of ice to be able to safely walk on it.
    Fact: The general rule that it requires four inches of ice to safely venture out onto it only applies to new, clear ice. Ice with snow on top is only about half as strong as new, clear ice. Plus, it’s never a good idea to venture out onto ice that has moving water or fluctuating water levels underneath. If you ever venture out onto ice, have a survival plan for what to do if you fall through. You should carry a pair of nails, sharpened screwdrivers, or ice picks. After falling through, turn towards the direction you came from, because that’s the most likely to have the thickest ice. If you’re wearing a life jacket, it can help in the process of kicking your legs and pulling yourself up with your arms onto your elbows using your sharp objects. You may need to wait briefly for water to drain from your clothes to be able to pull yourself out farther. Once you’re out, stay lying flat, and roll away from the hole to keep your weight spread out or you may fall through again. Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area, and re-warm yourself immediately.

    It’s critical to get proper medical treatment after any stage of cold-water immersion. After you begin to re-warm, cold blood trapped in your extremities can come rushing back to your heart. The shock of that may cause ventricular fibrillation leading to cardiac arrest.

    In summary, clothes don’t weigh you down in the water, most people who drown are known swimmers, in cold water most people drown from cold water shock or swim failure than hypothermia, and you can still die from post-rescue collapse after being rescued from hypothermia. Also, you need something sharp with you, like ice picks, if you’re venturing out onto any ice you perceive to be safe. The most important thing to remember is wearing a life jacket can help you survive a cold water encounter. Please share this information to help dispel the five myths of cold-water drownings and save more lives on our nation’s waters.



    Date Taken: 01.23.2020
    Date Posted: 01.23.2020 13:33
    Story ID: 360086
    Location: US

    Web Views: 741
    Downloads: 1